Here’s the problem with being Joss Sackler right now. No matter what you might try to do—buy a case of LaCroix, enroll your kid in jujitsu, donate to charity, gin up something resembling a career—you’re still a Sackler. You know, of the OxyContin Sacklers. Your family and its primary contribution to society have created a chilling national crisis. In the past two decades, opioids have produced millions of addicts, nearly 400,000 deaths, and lawsuits (against Sackler-owned Purdue Pharma) in 48 states and more than 500 cities. And so you, your humanity, is secondary to your Sacklerness. Online, you are targeted by trolls; in the press, you are largely damned. Daily interactions with your fellow man could be very unpleasant. Your name has been removed from (so far) one museum wall. The Met has announced that it will decline your donations.
But you remain a Sackler, and rich as sin. (In 2015, Forbes reported that the core contingent of this sprawling and occasionally contentious family is worth, in a “conservative” estimate, around $14 billion.) So you can at least attempt to purchase some privacy. Cars with drivers, planes with private pilots, mansions with gates—expensive, if ultimately futile, ways to shield yourself from your familial legacy.
Among the Resistance
Most Sacklers have ensconced themselves in these private worlds. But Joss Sackler, 35, and her husband, David, a thirtysomething, third-generation Sackler who runs a private-family investment firm and served as a Purdue board member until 2018, are among the resistance. In June, David Sackler sat down for an interview with Vanity Fair in defiance of what he described as the “consternation” of his family members. Earlier this year, Joss was unflatteringly profiled in Town & Country about the launch of her brand, LBV Care of Joss Sackler.
And here she is, talking to the press once again as she readies her collection for New York’s Fashion Week. We are sitting in a dingy design studio, filled with temporary-looking furniture and racks of sample garments, in the grimiest part of what is technically Tribeca. (A little different from the bar of the Lowell hotel, where Sackler met the reporter from Town & Country.) It’s a sweltering summer morning, and Sackler wears a wrap skirt and a tank top. She is polite but reserved, emitting a touch of world-weariness about the conversation that she knows is to come. Sackler will be presenting the first look at her fully-fledged ready-to-wear collection alongside Elizabeth Kennedy, an accomplished designer who has recently been named creative director of LBV Care of Joss Sackler. Joss offers me an oversize cookie from Sprinkles, a nearby bakery that is popular with children.
Sackler got into the fashion game in February, when she drummed up a small collection of accessories and clothing as an offshoot of LBV, a social club for wine enthusiasts she co-founded in 2017. (LBV stands for Les Bouledogues Vigneronnes—“the wine-making bulldogs.”)
“The clothing-and-accessories component for the club really stemmed from this need and want by the members to have something that was emblematic of the club,” she says, breaking off a piece of cookie. Country clubs have their needlepoint belts; LBV has a $1,200 gold-chain shoulder bag, adorned with its initials.
But Sackler is not here to outfit just the 50-odd members of her wine society. She yearns to be a player in the fashion world, like the people who sell $7,000 dresses at Bergdorf and air-kiss Carine Roitfeld backstage at their fashion shows, like someone who gives an interview to E! about the people she’s dressed for the Emmys. “I did what’s best for the brand—I doubled down and I hired an outside creative director,” she says. “I’m committed to make this successful, to make it the next all-American, ready-to-wear, couture-infused brand.”
Sackler yearns to be a player in the fashion world, like the people who sell $7,000 dresses at Bergdorf and air-kiss Carine Roitfeld backstage at their shows.
In that case, Kennedy, who is seated across the table from Sackler, was a smart hire. Something of a fashion prodigy, she was named the head designer at Isaac Mizrahi at 22, and went on to work at J. Mendel, Max Mara, and Donna Karan. She launched her eponymous collection in 2012 and was considered one of New York’s most talented young eveningwear designers, but in 2018, following a dispute with her investors, Kennedy left her own brand.
“I looked at the women that Elizabeth was dressing with her own brand—Oprah Winfrey, Laverne Cox, Lena Dunham, all these women with really powerful voices, and I gravitated towards that,” says Sackler. “That resonated with me.”
Kennedy’s first collection for LBV Care of Joss Sackler consists of around 40 pieces of apparel—draped, embellished evening gowns, silk-crêpe cocktail dresses, work-friendly separates—as well as leather goods, including bags, a wallet, and some belts. “It’s really a very modern interpretation inspired by the members of LBV and what they wear,” says Kennedy.
Aesthetic Starting Point: Medieval Armor
Medieval armor, particularly from the 15th and 16th centuries, was the aesthetic starting point. Hand-molded leather corsets, filigreed knit tops, a hand-carved phoenix on a belt buckle, sculpted metallic-leather handles on a structured handbag—the warrior-woman symbolism was intentional.
“Joss and I have had challenges this last year to overcome,” says Kennedy. “There’s a quiet strength to the way women handle challenges.”
Sackler smiles. “I’m not so sure that mine’s quiet,” she says with a laugh. “But yes.”
LBV Care of Joss Sackler will be sold at the brand’s e-commerce site starting in January. Retail prices will range from $259, for a cardholder from the accessories line, to $7,000, for an elaborate evening dress. But Sackler and Kennedy also aim to wholesale the collection.
“We want to do a lot of trunk shows—we really want to interact with customers, both here and overseas,” says Kennedy. The goal, she says, is to get LBV Care of Joss Sackler into the very best boutiques in the country—Forty Five Ten, the Webster, Moda Operandi, Bergdorf Goodman. Sackler and Kennedy will also host private sales appointments in Paris, in hopes of landing international accounts. “I think this is going to do really well overseas,” says Kennedy, who has worked closely with the Middle Eastern and Asian markets in previous jobs.
But do consumers, American or otherwise, want to buy anything the Sacklers are selling?
Once, being a Sackler was not at all a bad gig. Until mid-July, the family name was hanging at the Oriental Antiquities wing at the Louvre. It remains, for now, splashed about all sorts of prestigious institutions: the Guggenheim, the Met, the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian, the Serpentine. But starting around 2007, when the company and three of its executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges of misleading doctors and patients about OxyContin’s addictive properties and potential for abuse, the family and its business have been under siege. The Met and the Guggenheim have announced that they will no longer accept their donations. In news outlets ranging from Town & Country to The New York Times, the Sackler name has been described as “toxic,” even though there are members of the family who have no ties at all to Purdue Pharma.
Does Joss Sackler feel misrepresented by the press? “Of course,” she says. “But I understand the environment that we’re in, and this is the landscape that I have to navigate through today. Will that deter me from starting a venture and being successful and having it be a female-run, female-founded business? No.”
In May, Page Six reported that Joss Sackler and immediate family were relocating to Palm Beach “in a bid to escape the imperishable stain of their scandal-soaked family’s OxyContin business.” When the Florida topic is broached, Sackler visibly stiffens. “I’m not the first person to do this,” she says. “I’m not that much an anomaly. We are moving to Florida this summer. LBV will remain New York–based. This is a New York brand.... I’m still the president of the Columbia School of Linguistics Society. That’s not changing. I have to preside over meetings, so I’ll be here for that. It’ll be a back-and-forth.”
Could it be that she’s excited about the move? It does, after all, offer something of a fresh start. “Definitely,” she says, without evident enthusiasm. “I’m not a fearful person. So. If K2 doesn’t scare me, Florida does not scare me.”
Ah, K2. Late in June, Joss Sackler went to Pakistan, intending to summit the 28,251-foot mountain with a team led by Madison Mountaineering. (Next summer, they’re taking another group of sufficiently fit types with $58,500 of disposable income.) But as the expedition was leaving base camp, at an altitude of somewhere around 17,000 feet, Sackler collapsed. “We thought it was an asthma attack; I think it was more related to my autoimmune disease,” says Sackler, who was treated with steroids and oxygen, and then transported to a Pakistani hospital before returning to New York, where she spent a week at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Failure is not something that I’m ashamed of,” says Sackler. “In mountaineering, failure is celebrated.”
“The Undeterred ‘Phoenix’”
On September 9, Sackler and Kennedy will stage a runway show for LBV Care of Joss Sackler in Lower Manhattan. Save-the-dates have been sent to the press, describing “the undeterred ‘phoenix,’ Joss Sackler, who celebrates the persevering and unyielding woman with this collection.” The brand is offering to provide car service to editors, an attempt to ensure their attendance.
Sackler is ready for an assault of questions about Purdue and her family and OxyContin, but she hopes that it won’t drown out the messaging about herself as an entrepreneur, a female founder, a woman of taste. “Am I aware that our name is in the press? Absolutely, keenly, sharply, I understand,” she says. “I’m not stupid. I get it. Do I find relevance between the stories that are in the press, that are misguided a lot of times? I hope the truth—and it will—reveal itself, with more time and reporting.”
A little naïve, perhaps. Especially when Sackler has chosen to link her brand’s name with her own. Couldn’t it have been just LBV? The decision to proclaim one’s Sacklerness loudly and proudly could have been made out of ego, but it was more likely an act of defiance. “When I get punched, I punch back,” she says. “Perhaps I’ll try and learn that maybe punching back immediately is not the best reaction in the moment.”
Does Sackler deserve the opportunity to forge her own way in the world, to make something of her life? Certainly. And it takes an exceptionally strong constitution to soldier on, plowing your way through an environment that will always be hostile. Sackler reveals the fundamentally human imperative to simply keep going, despite struggle and tragedy—to try to be seen and heard. If only she had something more interesting to say.
Ashley Baker is the Style Editor for AIR MAIL